We were awake early and snuck by throngs of tourists to steal breakfast from the hotel we didn’t stay at. With at least a bit of Skyr and some pickled herring in our stomachs we got in the car to find the fabled hot spring swimming pool, Iceland’s oldest, Seljavallalaug.
The dirt road we decided would bring us to the trailhead, ended up being the right one on our too small map and when we got out of the car there was still a bite to the air as the sun hadn’t made it around to where we were yet. The scenery was a construction site, rocky with a bit of water flowing through and a seemingly uncaring man wearing an Icelandic wool sweater operating a front end loader, still this had to be the spot. There were two guys on enduro bikes, who had come from the same place we wanted to head to and they assured us we were in the right spot but that the pool was having some maintenance done by a few local volunteers that pressure wash it once a year.
We made our decision to walk in and check it out regardless of construction, or not; after all those guys could be lying, trying to keep tourists like us away from their local swim spot, hope is a curious thing. As we turned to find the path in, an old Black Lab comes up to say hi, she is greying around the mouth and friendly as can be with quite a bit of slobber to go around. Immediately after introducing herself, she is on the trail beckoning us to follow and so we we’re off following our doggy guide to the oldest pool in Iceland.
Rocky black construction, gave way to rich vibrant green hillsides and cliffs surrounding the valley we were walking through and the trickle of water we had seen in the flat before the trail turned into a river. The morning was still and the air still cold, but this place was almost spiritual; calm and borderline solemn, justifying Icelandic folklore of fairies and trolls. Our four legged tour guide took us up and down hillsides, knowing every which way to get around obstacles and as we approached a medium sized creek crossing, noticed our struggle and brought us lower to an easier place to get across.
Growing closer, the ground emitting the scent of sulfur and steam that only comes from the geothermal, we rounded a corner to see the old pool; built into the hillside, some of the concrete crumbling but still there, and three men in oil gear pressure washing as we’d been told. The pool was empty and we both felt the pang of disappointment despite knowing this prior to our walk in. We took a photo or two, gave the guys a wave and with that followed our friend back to the car, over obstacles, creek crossings, and appreciating every bit of the sun now warming our cold faces and the glowing green hillside behind us.
This post was featured in Volume 1: Issue 2 of Lay Off The Iodine’s Analog Companion.
All photos in this post taken on Canon AE-1 on 35mm film.
An abandoned high sierra camp and a picturesque waterfall gushing into oblivion. It’s a quick trip, basically 6 miles each way leaving from Tuolumne Meadows, typically bustling with folks seeing all of the Yosemite high country that they can muster, but not so for us. For us, this is basically the last weekend of high country backpacking with a weather system promising the rest of California some much needed rain and a good dump of snow at elevation, needless to say Tioga Pass will close.
We park down a dirt road off Tioga road, throw our packs on and get on trail right on schedule; knowing that the distance is short makes the journey light and easy, fun and we are generally excited to be hanging out with friends from the east side. Making our way in, we don’t see a soul, one of Yosemite’s favorite trails and not one person do we pass heading in, it’s kind of remarkable. Passing cascades, waterfalls, and iced over puddles, we all fall in love with the day, crisp and in the 60’s, sun out with some cartoon clouds to interrupt the blue expanse of the sky.
Glen Aulin leaves nothing to be desired. A beautifully lonesome and quiet seasonal camp a couple weeks past it’s close date and now some great friends throwing lines into the water to try and nail one of those little Sierra Brook Trout to snack on before dinner. As afternoon progresses, we laze about, basking in the sun as we know it will dip into the 30’s this evening. The sun goes lower and lower until it disappears behind the wall of pine; its instantly cold and the small fire is the only source of heat for us now. Snacking on our friend’s lucky catch while we wait for dinner to rehydrate, we sip red wine with a whiskey chaser and reflect on good times past, present, and future.
Dinner is backcountry chicken burritos, wrapped in foil, and thrown in the fire to get that extra heat and cheese melt; again we are thankful for a dehydrator back home and the leftover chicken carcass from last week. The night rolls through, the cold sneaks in, the whiskey warms, and voices get louder as the “cheers governor” games get belligerent. Drown, stir, and off to sleep; warmth in a bag and a high country cool just kissing all of our faces.
Waking up, we linger in our bags, holding on to that last bit of heat until the need to pee is too much and we’ve got to get the day started and confront the cold of the outside as the sun meets the frost and warms the forest. Coffee to melt away the headache that the Turkey 101 birthed in the night and whatever is left for food to put in our stomaches. Break down camp, pack it away, give it a stretch and make sure no T’s were L’d; we are off, marching from whence we came, up up up and along the trail this time passing a few folks out on a morning day hike in the Yosemite High Country.
A quick one out, and we are back at the car ready to head back to the city, refreshed and relaxed. The ticket on the windshield could say otherwise, but fuck it. Note to self: dirt roads off Tioga road are apparently still part of the Tioga Corridor on which there is no overnight parking allowed past 10/15.
The morning is still with a small bit of haze and a quiet likened to Cape Cod summer mornings skipping across the harbor in our 14 ft whaler. “The water’s like glass,” I say, as we slip our paddles in and out and push our boats onward exploring rocky inlet after rocky inlet, “how about here?” We dart into a small escape from the larger part of the lake. Rounding a corner, our boats are suddenly in the midst of a lily pad forest, and we slide up onto the adjacent granite shore with ease. Once up and out, we find our spot, lay out our towels and bask in the Sierra summer morning sun. “It doesn’t get much better than this,” we exclaim before one or both of us leaps off the rock to break the stillness of the water.
The Eel River holds our summer hearts. Each year the high wall and its deep pools and lone river beach draw us back for long, hot days of dozing and dipping and jumping and beer. The steep trek, loading down everything we can for our one night’s stay, all worth the mildly treacherous slipping and sliding so we can eat, drink and sleep. It’s summertime bliss on the river.
Its dry, hot, dusty, cold, windy, snowy, rainy; unforgiving. Its big, grandiose, epic, awesome, righteous; spiritual. The Eastern Sierra kind of rules all of California, reigning over it from the east side and laughing in the face of those in the west who think the trip is too much work; the east doesn’t want you, the east doesn’t need you, and most importantly, the east doesn’t care.
The area in and around Mono Lake is full of secret hot springs, craters, and fourteeners no one has heard of. It boasts memories of our presence and departure through abandoned towns, mines, cave dwellings and petroglyphs. This area tells us the story of its history through volcanic shapes and remnants.
The Fissures are a kept secret of the East side; hidden in plain view atop a hill made of volcanic ash just waiting to be explored and treasured. They are a series of slot canyons 20-50 ft deep and 2-6 ft wide, shaped volcanically telling an intrinsic piece of the geological history of the Eastern Sierras and Mono Lake. Finding them can be tough but is worth the short jaunt for such a massive reward.
There’s a place just north of San Francisco that used to be home to a fishing village of over 500 Chinese immigrants. Before that it was a dairy ranch belonging to a wealthy Irish-American family. And long before that it was the home and hunting grounds of the Miwok people for hundreds of years. After most of the Chinese fishermen left, the land was saved from potential developers, and turned into a protected state park for us to enjoy.
These pieces of land transfer from one hand to the next, serving different purposes for each. Who uses it best? Who deserves it the most? Who should it belong to? Now it belongs to the State, and therefore to all of the people, more or less. Although you can’t use it to farm your cows, catch shrimp, or fully sustain your life anymore, you can use it to enjoy the outdoors, and to be thankful that one more stretch of the Bay’s coast so close to the ever expanding city was spared. Happy Earth Day!
Saturday – Hetch Hetchy to Tiltill Creek (in Tiltill Valley) – 9.3
Sunday – Back to Hetch Hetchy – 9.3
The mark is still there from the mid 90’s, the painted-over crack and words that an environmentalist artist repelled and painted in the middle of the night on the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The words echoed John Muir, “Free the Rivers.”
It’s hard not to agree; hydroelectric power is on its way out, and wild salmon populations have been decimated by the hatchery system. Restoration seems appropriate now, seems necessary now if we want wild salmon to have a fighting chance of survival or hope to see some of our most scenic rivers run free.
There are 75,000 dams in the US alone, a third of which are over 50 years old, and 14,000 of which are considered “high-hazard,” meaning their failure could result in the loss of human life. This isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s an issue of infrastructure in disrepair and public safety. It just happens to have an environmental facet as well.
Stepping down from our soap box, we can think on this from the point of view of the future; of what our children and our children’s children are able to experience and share with their friends and families. Of what they are able to gain knowledge and experience from, and what kind of people we give them the ability to become. There is a direct correlation between our decisions today and the outdoors and America’s natural lands tomorrow, it’s time for that to be recognized.
Railroad Flat Camp to North Fork intersection – Out + Back – 5 miles
Spring engulfed the land surrounding the Merced River. Every step we took brought us to a new spread of flowers, tall grasses, and butterflies. Literally butterflies everywhere. As the warm sun cloaked our shoulders we felt lucky to be in such a place for two entire days. With not so far to go, the river and its creeks and its bursting flowers were ours for the taking. Walking, dipping, napping, collecting, eating, drinking, and singing. That’s all we needed.
All photos taken with 35mm film on a Canon AE-1, except yellow poppy photo.
Lost Coast Trail – Mattole River to Black Sands Beach
North to South – 24.6 miles
Day 1 – 8.3 miles – Mattole River to Randall Creek
Day 2 – 9.7 miles – Randall Creek to Shipman Creek
Day 3 – 6.6 miles – Shipman Creek to Black Sands Beach
Slowly. Step, wait, step; balance, step. Head down, eyes on your feet, step, look up to the hazy California coast dropping to the fury of the winter Pacific, step; the rock you’re on wobbles, slides, and down, propped up by a hand. Struggle. A push up with forty on your back, a knee that says no, an aching body that only wants a view; affirmation.
Sand. Soft dry sand, wet firm sand, granular sand, powdery sand, sand with rocks, sand with sticks, sand with seaweed. Step, sink, step. Slow going on this section, tide is returning and your race to escape it takes on new urgency. In a few hours violent waves mercilessly pummel rock into sand. Move along.
Blocked. Stuck, knee deep and rushing; gallons upon gallons screaming for escape. You gaze up and down the stream, hoping to see something different, a log, a series of rocks, nothing. Pack off, bend down, laces untie, boots off; step. Slowly, carefully, propped by a pole, still slipping; stub a toe, a curse. Other side, trail in front, boots on, laced up, forty on your back; step.
A bluff; bright green, well fed grass, a worn trail of firm dirt to coast along. Up and down, side to side, eyes ahead; take it in, and down. Rocks. A uniform groan and it begins. Slowly. Step, wait, step; balance, step. Head down, eyes on your feet, step.
Day 2 – 17 miles – Pat Spring to Double Cone Summit and back to Pat Spring
Day 3 – 8.5 miles – Pat Spring to Bottcher’s Gap
Two women eager to tackle Double Cone. Seemed fitting. But when we read the tid bits of information online about the trail to Ventana Double Cone in Big Sur, the results were confusing. Some “reviews” told of an impassable, totally obstructed trail with zero water, while others spoke of it as a delightful hike with gorgeous views; the mileage was unclear. Per usual with internet findings you have to find the truth somewhere in the middle. Or by just trying it out for yourself. We found out pretty much for sure that there was water at our camp destination at Pat Spring, and decided to take on the potential challenge. How obstructed could a trail really be?
We doubted our negative informers, and we underestimated ourselves. The trail was longer than planned, and invisible at times, but we found our way to the top of Double Cone. And back down. We had nearly enough daylight left to take some photos, write in the mountain-top log book, and begin our 8.5 mile journey back to camp, with the last hour and a half in the dark. We didn’t listen to everything we were told by the internet, or the Eeyore-like ranger, or even those we encountered along the way. We took pieces of it all, said fuck it and went for it, and ended up with a true adventure of our own.